Friday, May 20, 2011

Real Talk: Student Bank Accounts, Credit and Finances

First let me start off this post by emphasizing that I am i no way a financial expert and any advice I give is based off of my personal financial knowledge, which comes mostly from my financially stable parents, and some economics and accounting classes. Please remember that I am currently a college student and you should always consult with a professorial or expert before making any big decisions regarding your finances.

That said, let's talk about bank accounts, credit and finances. I spend a lot of time talking about ways to earn extra money , but what do you do when your first check from Treasure Trooper or Inbox Dollars arrives? Perhaps you have a joint bank account with your parents and they can deposit the money for you, as well as keep track of your finances on your behalf (this was me for quite a while!) Or perhaps you already have a bank account and are well-versed in managing your own finances, but do not have any credit or investments. What steps, if any, should you take to begin building a foundation for your finances in the future?

First, the basics: How to Open a Checking Account. A checking account is a bank account that allows you to withdraw money by writing checks or by using a debit card at an ATM. Unlike credit cards, debit cards withdraw money immediately out of your checking account and if there is no money in your account, you may be charged an overdraft fee. Up until recently, the majority of checking accounts were free. However due to the recent Overdraft Protection Act, which is meant to protect people from exorbitant or frequent overdraft fees, banks are losing money by offering free checking accounts and have begun charging monthly fees. Few banks remain with free checking accounts, and most of them are switching to monthly fee systems within the next year or so.

College students, however, are happily exempt from these changes (at least for the time being.) We can open what's called a Student Checking Account: it's basically the old free checking model, but it's now only available for students. Of course, every bank is different and some may or may not offer this option, so check with your local bank first. I can tell you that one bank that DOES offer Student Checking Accounts is U.S. Bank, which is one of the largest banks the country with locations everywhere except the east coast. (Note:I originally found U.S. Bank because it still has free checking accounts, but it turns out that next month those will be switched - it is however still listed on their website at this time.) With the U.S. Bank Student Checking Account, you get free checks and no monthly fee or minimum deposit. It's valid until you turn 25, at which point you will need to switch over to a regular checking account - so cross your fingers that you can afford the $8.95/month fee by then!

Now once you have your student checking account and have deposited some money into it at the bank (just walk into the bank with your check and ask a teller for help depositing if you need a walkthrough! It's super easy) you need to avoid overdraft fees. Like I mentioned before, an overdraft fee is when you go to get money out of your account and there is no money available, but you take out money anyway which leads to fees - usually something like $30-$60 per overdraft charge. The Overdraft Protection Act makes it possible to opt out of overdraft protection - meaning if you go to purchase something with your debit card and there are no funds available, your card will simply decline, avoiding any overdraft fees - but potentially rendering you without access to money, so ONLY choose this option if you have a second card available or carry cash at all times in case of emergencies! You can also opt into overdraft protection, which lets you set up a secondary account or card so that when you go to spend or withdraw money and your account is empty, it will be automatically transferred to your secondary account or card instead. IMPORTANT: you can still be hit with overdraft fees from automatic bill-paying or writing checks without having sufficient funds in your account! To avoid overdraft fees once and for all, ALWAYS monitor the money available in your account. You can look at your balance using online banking at most banks.

So now you have a checking account with some money in it and you've been careful about knowing your balance to avoid overdrafting. You're on your way to being financially responsible! The next step you should be taking is Building Your Credit. Credit may not be very relevant to your life right now, but once you graduate from college it will be EXTREMELY important. You will need a credit history (and preferably, a good credit score) to rent an apartment, buy a car, get a loan or buy a house. And if you graduate without any credit, you might find yourself unable to find a place to live - most apartments will not rent to anyone without credit history, so unless you can find a co-signer with good credit to add their name to your lease, you could very well end up homeless or couchsurfing. Building credit takes time, and you can't do it immediately, which is why it is very important to start NOW while you're still in college (and not homeless or couchsurfing, hopefully!)

There are only two ways to build credit. The first way to build credit is by taking out a personal loan and making regular payments (on time and in full) on your loan. This is a tricky option because it is hard to GET a loan without credit, which is exactly what you need right now. Yes, it's a total Catch-22. So what that means is as a college student, the best way to build credit is to open a credit card. Unfortunately, having a credit card can also ruin your credit and cost you a lot of money in interest fees - so you should ONLY open a credit card if you are absolutely sure you can pay your bill off each month on time! If you think you can handle the responsibility of a credit card, consider opening one with your local bank and linking it to your checking account. Some banks may offer automatic bill pay so that you can have your credit card bill automatically transfer the money from your debit account. You can also earn rewards through your bank in this way - for example, U.S. Bank gives 1% cash back rewards on EVERY purchase made with your credit card. Another option is to open a credit card with a lender who is not a bank, such as a retailer or store. If you shop at the store frequently, you can earn money back and rewards for your purchases. Some stores, such as New York & Company, even let you pay your bills just by walking into the store and handing over some cash. Store credit cards frequently have high interest, but no annual fee - meaning as long as you pay them off as SOON as you make a purchase, you can keep them open with no balance indefinitely, building your credit and getting rewards without racking up debt or fees. Here is an article about the dangers of store credit cards. Remember - you should ONLY open a credit card if you are ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE that you can pay the bill off IN FULL and ON TIME each month, preferably as soon as you make a purchase with your card. Also, some banks and retailers may have a minimum age requirement to open a credit card.

If you are financially dependent on your parents, talk to them about some options regarding opening a credit card under your name. For example, my parents gave me an emergency credit card several years ago with a VERY low limit (like $250 per month). I only use it in the case of emergencies or when my parents have already agreed to buy me something (like filling up my tank, or a birthday present) and the bill is automatically sent to my parents who then pay it on time for me. Even though I only use it a few times per year, it is building up my credit score which will be very helpful when I graduate from college. If you are fortunate enough to have financially stable parents who don't mind helping you out with a few bills, this could be a very good way to build your credit.

You can NOT build credit by paying bills- although paying your bills late can HURT your credit. The same also applies for renting an apartment - it won't build your credit (though it will build your rental history which will be very important when you go to rent an apartment in the future) but if you don't pay your rent on time it could HURT your credit score. Ideally by the time you graduate, you have built up a little bit of credit and will have little trouble renting an apartment or taking out a loan for moving expenses, a car, etc.

Now, the last item on the agenda: finances - aka, managing, saving and investing your money. Say you are a graduating college senior (like me!) with a solid understanding of how to budget and manage your money (what little you may have, at least) and a decent beginning to your credit history. Should you be looking into making some financial investments? Frankly, no. Unless you have a brilliant understanding of the stock market already, investing isn't something you need to think about right now. You don't have enough money to go and give it away to someone else in the hopes that you'll get more of it back later - you need that money right now, to start your new life as a graduate. It won't be until the first or second year out of college, when you're more stable, with an extra 6 months or so of emergency funds saved up in your account, that you will have room to think about tucking some of that money away. At that time you'll probably start looking into saving some of your money for retirement in a 401K or IRA; putting some of it in the stock market, a CD or a mutual fund; or even consulting a financial planner to see what options you have available to you. But until then, just keep doing what you're doing and don't worry about it. You have the rest of your life to invest money that accrues interest, and while you're still living by the skin of your teeth you don't have that much to spare. If you happen to have parents or family members who have invested some money for you, or a savings account that has been accruing interest for some time, just leave it in their care until you're financially stable and can take on the responsibility of handling all of your own money: a few years out of college and earning your own income, say. Final verdict? Until you're financially stable, don't worry about finances. That takes one thing off your plate, eh?

For some more tips and different points of view, read these articles:
27 Money Tips for College Students
Top 10 Student Money Mistakes
Top 5 Money Mistakes College Students Make

If you have any questions, comments or advice, please post it in the comments or on my facebook page!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Freebies of the week! Free mobile headset!

There are even more great freebies going on this week! The best one is today only - it's a FREE Plantronics or Jabra 2.5mm Mobile Headset, a $29.99 value, + Free Shipping from All you have to do is "Like" their facebook fan page and then visit the site to order your free headset.

From May 15 to May 21 Staples will have Scotch Magic Tape with Dispenser on sale for $0.99. PRINT this coupon for $1 off and get it for FREE! Click here to print the coupon

"Like" Ocean Spray's facebook page to get a FREE Sparkling Cranberry Juice Sample! Click the link on the lefthand side once you "Like" the page.

FREE Cinnastix at Domino's Pizza! Use the code EBCS. Totally free for carryout, no minimum purchase required, but if you want them delivered they'll charge a delivery fee.

Get a FREE Obestrim Weight Loss Supplement Sample! "Like" their facebook page and then fill out the form for your free sample. Click Here for Sample

On 5/21 you can get Flip Flops for $1 from Old Navy. Limit 5 per customer.

Several of the freebies from last week are still active as well!

And for those of you who read last week's Paid-To Spotlight , Swagbucks has a brand new super-easy way to earn a daily swagbuck! Here they are again with the new one added:

1. Download the SwagBucks toolbar for your browser. Every day that you use the browser, you earn 1SB just for loading the toolbar.
2. Earn 1SB each day by voting in the Daily Poll
3. Earn 1SB just for checking the Trusted Survey dashboard each day
4. Earn 2SB daily by clicking through the NOSO - just keep clicking "next" or "skip offer" until you reach the end of the path to collect your 2SB.
5. Earn 1SB each day for sending an invitation to Swagbucks to a friend on Twitter, Facebook, or other social networking sites. This is perfect if you happen to have a zillion twitter followers or facebook friends - just send out one each day for your daily SB! You'll get lifelong referral earnings from each person that signs up from that invite.

Total: 6 SB per day, aka 180 SB per month!
Then there's Swag Codes, searches, easy offers and videos to watch, etc. You'll be earning gift cards and rewards in no time. Sign up for Swagbucks here!

What have you gotten for free this week? Comment on the entry or on my facebook page!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Freebies of the Week! Hope you're hungry.

You might notice that giant picture of a cheese pizza... you know, the one with that 0.00 price tag. Yup, that's right - Papa John's is giving away FREE Medium Cheese Pizzas! This is 100% confirmed legit as evidenced by that delicious pizza in the picture (which is now mostly eaten). Just go online to and enter "MKCQOW" in the "Promo Code" box to credit your FREE pizza. Then go pick it up at the closest Papa John's! Best. Freebie. Ever. (Note: this might not be available for long - so hurry!)

Next we have Free Bagel & Cream Cheese at Bruegger’s! Coupon here.

FREE Quick Freeze at Quick Chek! Print Coupon Here

FREE Arby's Grilled Chicken & Pecan Salad with purchase of a 22oz drink! Print Coupon Here

May 10th is Free Cone Day at participating Haagen-Dazs shops. Stop by from 4-8 p.m. and receive a free scoop of your favorite flavor.

FREE Ironman Sports Drink! Print Coupon Here

And something for you to do while you're enjoying all that free food. FREE Redbox Movie Rental on 5/12!

And a few mail-in free samples as well! You know, so your hair can look pretty while you watch that free movie and eat that free pizza.

Dove Haircare Sample! Click Here
John Frieda Root Awakening Haircare Sample Click Here
Garnier Fructis Anti-Dandruff Shampoo Sample Click Here

Free full-sized Ojon shampoo and conditioner on May 12 at select Sephoras - Beauty Insiders Only! Bring in any empty full-size shampoo or conditioner on May 12, 2011 and receive one full-size set of damage reverse™ Restorative Shampoo and Conditioner for free.

And finally, something to wear with your pretty hair and pizza and free movie. Like the Bicardi FB page to get a FREE t-shirt. You need to be 21 or older, void in California, Utah.

Oh, and Kmart has like 10 samples as well, so check those out! Click Here

Enjoy! Don't forget to post pictures of the freebies you receive on the Broke Student Guide Facebook Page.

Save $205 this month: learn to penny-pinch!

We've all heard the cliches - "A penny saved is a penny earned," "Every little bit adds up" etc etc. But is it really true? Can pinching pennies save you enough money to be worth your time? The answer, as you probably already guessed, is YES. But what kinds of things can you do to pinch those pennies, and how much is it actually worth? Here's a breakdown of some easy, quick ways to save some cash, and how much it could save you per month.

-Eat at home at least 6 nights a week, even if
you're just eating a frozen dinner. If you ate at home rather than eating out 6 nights a week for a month you'd save about $100.

-Put all of your spare change into a jar as soon as you get home every day. If you saved all of your spare change in one spot rather than just leaving it in your pockets/purse/on the floor/in your car, you'd save about $10 a month.

-Learn to cook something that you eat frequently (for example, if you eat a Sausage Biscuit every morning for breakfast, buy sausages and biscuits at the grocery store and make your own! Savings per week? $5.80!) If you replaced something you eat frequently with a home-made version, you'd save about $25 a month.

-Collect condiments and sugar/creamer packets from coffee shops and cafeterias so you don't have to buy entire bottles of ketchup or Splenda. If you stopped buying condiments, sugar and creamer, you'd save $10 a month.

-Collect napkins from fast food resteraunts, cafeterias and coffee shops, and use them instead of paper towels or tissues. If you stopped buying paper towels and tissues, you'd save $6 a month.

-Use plastic bags from the grocery store as trash bags. They're free, and that totally counts as recycling. If you stopped buying trash bags, you'd save $3 a month.

-Apply foundation and concealer with clean fingers, not makeup sponges. Sponges absorb most of the makeup rather than applying it on your skin, AND grow bacteria, needing to be replaced every week. What a waste! If you stopped buying makeup sponges and didn't need to buy makeup as often you'd save about $5 a month..

-Print things out at the library or in a computer lab, instead of on your own printer. The money you save on ink and paper will be about $10 a month.

-Pick up condoms at your campus' health center or local Planned Parenthood for free. If you used free condoms instead of buying them, you'd save about $6/month.

-Take the bus, carpool, bike or walk instead of driving your car. If you avoided using your car as much as possible, you could save about $30 on gas each month.

Total Monthly Savings: $205
Total Annual Savings: $2460

So you see, it's easy to save big by doing very little! Do you have any additional penny-pinching tips not mentioned here? Let me know in the comments or on my facebook wall!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Broke Student Recipes: NOT RAMEN

Occasionally there comes a time in every students life where they are hungry, and they have the time to cook something. One the chance occasion that this opportunity arises, it is worth taking advantage of it - and I don't mean by tossing a frozen pizza in the oven or adding hot sauce to your ramen (that's not cooking, guys!). Treat your body and your wallet with some nutritious, delicious, cheap(icious) recipes that are super easy to make!

Recipe #1: Shakshuka

"Shakshuka" is an African/Isreali dish, which essentially consists of eggs poached in a spiced tomato sauce. I used Ragu. Here's the recipe I made up as I went along, along with the prices (using approximated grocery store prices for in-season goods).

3 Eggs $.45
3/4 cup of pasta sauce $.45
1/2 of an onion $.16
A few cilantro and parsley leaves $.10
1 clove of garlic .01
1 tablespoon crumbled feta cheese $.10

1. Heat the pasta sauce in a saucepan on about a 7 or 8 level of heat.
2. Add chopped onion, crushed garlic clove, and cilantro leaves.
3. When sauce is bubbling and hot, drop in the eggs. Allow to cook.
4. Stare dubiously at dissappearing eggs and wonder how on earth you will know when they are cooked.
5. Wait 6-8 minutes, assume they MUST be cooked, poke around in the sauce a bit, pour saucepan out into a bowl and find 3 perfectly poached eggs hiding underneath the sauce. Decide to use less sauce next time.
6. Sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese and parsley leaves. Inhale the aroma of your simmering, delicious creation, dig in while it is still too hot and burn your tongue. Make tea and wait for dish to cool somewhat. Enjoy.
My creation looked like this:

Total price: $1.27 (serves 1)

Note: although I happened to have these ingredients on hand, you'd probably do just fine without fresh herbs or even the cheese- just heat up your favorite pasta sauce, add an onion (it helps make it more hearty so you're not just eating soupy sauce) and sprinkle some parmesan or whatever on top if you like.

Recipe #2: Chicken with Bok Choy Stir Fry

This is another recipe that I made up as I went along, and I've made it several times since. It is INSANELY filling thanks to the Bok Choy, and super cheap! Bok Choy, or Chinese Cabbage, is a healthy, filling vegetable. The leaves are similiar to spinach and the stalks are tasteless and full of water, allowing them to absorb the flavor of the dish while providing filler. You can buy Bok Choy in any grocery store. During the summer it's $1.00/lb which is when I start making this dish all the time.

1 Chicken Breast $.75
1 large stalk of Bok Choy $.75
1/4 cup Soy Sauce $.20 (or use packets from a Chinese Restaurant for free!)
1/4 cup Canola or Olive Oil $.30
1/2 cup rice $.25 (any kind of rice you have is fine. I used leftovers.)
Optional: garlic powder, onion, ginger, black pepper

1. Prepare your chicken by defrosting it and cutting it into sections - strips, cubes, whatever you want.
2. Prepare your Bok Choy by washing it thoroughly and removing the green leaves from the stalks. Shred the leaves into smaller pieces and dice the stalks.
3. Make rice. I trust you know how to do this. You are a college student after all.
4. While your rice is cooking, heat a large skillet/wok on the stove at a medium setting (maybe a 5 or 6). Pour the oil and 1/2 of the soy sauce into the pan, and then add your chopped chicken and your chopped Bok Choy Stalks. The stalks will absorb all the flavor of the chicken while it is cooking, plus they take longer to cook than the leaves. While the stalks/chicken are cooking, add in any spices you wanted to use.
5. After the chicken has begun to turn white and is close to browning, add the Bok Choy leaves and the rest of the soy sauce. By the time the leaves are bright green and wilted, the chicken should be done! Pour your creation into a tupperware or whatever you're eating out of this week.
6. You didn't burn the rice, did you? I hope you didn't, because I'll feel bad for not writing out instructions. Anyway, go figure out your rice situation, and then put the stir-fry on top of it and eat!
Here was my creation:

Total Cost: $2.25 (Serves 2, or 1 if you are REALLY hungry)

Recipe #3: Lobster Roll's Cheaper, Healthier Younger Sister Recipe

Anyone who's ever been to Massachusets has most likely sampled a few local specialties: New England Clam Chowder, baked beans, raspberry lime rickies, Indian Pudding, and the infamous lobster roll. (If I've already lost you, read on! I promise not to name-drop any strange foods anymore.) The lobster roll is like the classy, grown-up big sister of the tuna salad and chicken salad sandwhich. If you took tuna or chicken salad, and subbed the meat with lobster, and then stuck that into a perfectly buttered and toasted bun, you'd have something a lot like a lobster roll. At its core, lobster rolls are big, meaty chunks of lobster mixed in mayonnaise with some veggies and seasonings - in that delicious buttery bun. I know what you're thinking: mayonnaise? Butter? No way this is even REMOTELY healthy! And with the meat of half a lobster in one sandwhich, it's most likely not affordable to anyone south of Maine. Well take heart, my friends. You, too, can enjoy the fabulous lobster roll...... in the healthier, thinner, cheaper version that I invented! *takes a bow* thank you, thank you. Ahem.

(Note: because everything is to taste and depends on the amount of food you want to make, I am not using any measurements. Basically, however much crabmeat you use, is the amount you'll have - eyeball it so that each serving will fill a hot dog bun generously.)

- Imitation crab meat (don't be scared, it's just flaky white fish!)
- Low fat mayonnaise, like Hellman's
- Lemon juice (doesn't need to be fresh, the plastic squeeze bottles work just fine)
- Salt. Pepper.
- Hot dog buns - I used Fiber One! Healthy and yum. Feel free to get whatever's cheapest, though.
- I Can't Believe It's Not Butter (or regular butter)
- OPTIONAL: pickles, cucumber, celery, fresh basil leaves, capers

1. First, stick a skillet on the stovetop and put on level 7.
2. Spray or coat your hot dog bun on either side with butter subsitute, or rub it all over with butter.
3. Place bun on skillet to brown - keep an eye on it as you prepare the salad, and turn it over after one side is browned.
4. Cut up the crab meat into bite size chunks - not too small, but not so huge that you can't fit 'em in your mouth.
5. Douse with lemon juice, and add a tablespoon of capers or pickles or basil or whatever you have on hand.
6. Add a heaping tablespoon of mayonnaise and mix together until contents are evenly coated.
7. Your bun should be toasted by now, so pop it on a plate, spoon your salad into the bun, and ENJOY.

250 calories, 5g fiber, 10g protein per roll (using the ingredients I used)
(For those of us not familiar: lobster rolls usually run around $15 each!)
Total Cost: $3.00 per roll

And there you have it: 3 recipes that I made up as I went along without much guidance or money. You can do it too! Have fun experimenting! Post your favorite recipes or creations in the comments or on my facebook wall!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...